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“Ghana has lost 20 years of her entrepreneurial evolution”

Chief Executive Officer of BEIGE Capital, delivered the address below at the Ghana Economic Forum 2015 on “Ghanaian-owned economy; setting the agenda for achieving it”.

The theme for this year’s event: Ghanaian-Owned Economy – setting the agenda for achieving it – is so on point to me. How nice a theme, ladies and gentlemen.  What this means to me in terms of numbers is an economy where at least 40% of GDP is derived from the economic activities of businesses of Ghanaian ownership…not origin. OWNERSHIP. So I checked up the profile of the top 25 companies in Ghana in terms of contribution to GDP. Data obtained from the GRA revealed that 7 out of the top 25 were of Ghanaian ownership. GCB leads the pack, followed by Ghana Manganese and some others including Banks. They are then followed closely by Nigeria with 4 and South Africa with 3. The US, Britain, France, America, etc. had two each and the rest split amongst some non-African countries. But you and I know that this is based on data that has been disclosed and I can bet that if we really have to dig behind the numbers, the concentration is not likely to be in favour of Ghana.

However, in the context of this forum, I believe that this data is an acceptable reference point for a discussion. But HEY! Is it NEWS TO YOU that our economy is not owned by us? Without a doubt, all of you here are more experienced and know better than I do so I’m not sure I’m qualified enough to explain why the situation is so and neither am I capable enough to propose solutions to it. For that reason, I request that you kindly should not expect too much from me but rather indulge me as I choose to share my thoughts on the case as a growing young man.

First, I’d share my historical thoughts on how entrepreneurship has evolved over the years in Ghana, I’d touch on why I believe in Ghana, I’d give my opinion on PPP and most of all I’d share a secret with you……it’s about me and the President. You know, I’m one of his biggest fans! Almost 60 years on, following independence and one has the right to say entrepreneurship in Ghana has evolved. I can speak of 6 entrepreneurial generations, at the least based on my limited experience.

Generation A; These are pioneers of the trade most of whom have passed on or are aged above 80 today. You can speak of the legendary Asoma Banda and the late Dr. Esther Ocloo. Then Generation B; Most of them in their 70s now…I’d respectfully refer to Mr. Kwabena Darko. Generation C; are in their 60s AND still very active in the game. They include my seniors including Mr. Kofi Amoabeng, Mr. Kwabena Duffour and Dr. Kwabena Agyei of Kasapreko. Then Generation D; men and women in their 50s…and they include my seniors, Edward Effah and Ken Ofori Atta. Generation E; are in their 40s…have gathered some momentum and started doing things. They are too many and I can’t single anyone out for now. Then my group….Generation F; …under 40 and now trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. Permit me to add a last group; Generation G;… I call them the ‘twitter generation’…they are under 30 years… watch that ‘G’ space.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve with intention drawn clear lines amongst these different generations of entrepreneurs because each have affected and are affecting Ghana positively and in varying ways. I personally believe that each generation depends on and therefore stands upon the shoulders of their predecessors to do their thing. Thus, all things being equal, the heights that any of them attained or can attain would be influenced not only by their skills and prevailing opportunities at the time but also the foundations that were handed over to them by their predecessors.

When we look around us today, it’s difficult to count 20 institutions that are aged over 30years and are of Ghanaian ownership. Why is this so? When you look around you see products of the generation Cs… and Ds…mostly. Does it suggest that generations A’s and B’s…didn’t produce anything?…NO. I strongly disagree. They did, but you know what…they did not have the opportunity to fulfil their full potential and thus were unable to pass on the skill and infection to the generation after them, due to the political upheaval in the 70’s and 80’s. I guess only Asoma Banda, Appiah Menkah & probably a handful survived. Today where are their institutions….Ladies and Gentlemen?

So you see, the generation C’s & D’s had to literally rebuild the foundation that they should have inherited. That is lost time!  Trust me, it takes not less than 10years to build the foundation of a solid business. If you would agree with me on this position then, simply said, by not allowing generations A & B to fulfill their full potential, we have lost for life, at least 20years of our entrepreneurship evolution. So we are doing today what we should have done at least 10 years ago. “We dey back”. That is one of the reasons why there’s a big gap between the size of our businesses and that of our Nigerian colleagues. Thankfully, however, our generations C & D  have lived through and chalked feats that have put us back on track at least to prevent a further widening of the gap. We appreciate them.

This gives me hope that the idea of a Ghanaian owned economy is possible, if we create the room for our entrepreneurs to flourish. Believe me, we can and if you think it’s not possible, watch out for the twitter generation. They are CRAZY. So the reality today is that, we have entrepreneurs budding with a lot of energy but are we using them or creating room for them to flourish? Or we are stifling their growth using bureaucracies and political barriers.

Can you believe that in some cases the public service is in competition with the private sector? Yes. The Public sector that should facilitate access to resources is competing with the private sector instead of facilitating the so called engine of growth. Instead of complaining, I’m happy to say that in spite of all this I still have so much faith in Ghana. AND this is for a simple reason. We are so GREEN and the country is awash with opportunities.

The World Bank recently released an interesting report on the trend of urbanization in Ghana. Ghana’s urban population as at today is 14.6m and this is expected to hit almost 20m in 2025. Now listen to the juicy part. Do you know that the size of Accra in 1990 was 227sq km? This more than doubled to 563sq km in 2002 and as at 2012, the land mass was almost 1,200sq km. This means in a space of 20years the size of Accra has increased by more than 5 times. This is staggering and judging by the pace of real estate development, this figure would surely double 10 years from today. This means one thing. BUSINESS opportunities…. Accommodation, food, transportation, relaxation, recreation, energy, lifestyle, and a lot more. Ladies and gentlemen, ‘Jobs Dey!’

As a nation how are we going to harness these opportunities for the benefit of nationals and country? Public sector and policy makers…stay in your lane and let’s not stifle private sector. Rather, Public sector;   invigorate us to deliver so you get the praise for it because we cannot challenge you….you’ve got the power. Too many of us are hungry to work. Don’t waste this energy burning in us. I think the government should also consider building MONSTER corporations of Ghanaian ownership INTENTIONALLY. If we have to own our economy then we need to forcefully create big corporations in a short space of time. It’s been done elsewhere so why not in Ghana. UBA was built. Ecobank was built and so was Dangote. They were created. It can be done, so easily and of course through PPP, but not just talk, talk, PPP but PPP backed by action.

At this point, kindly permit me to share with you my most practical example of an effective PPP. I’m sure most of you have been to Dubai and in so doing used the Emirates Airline. And once you’ve been to Dubai you would know about the BURJ KHALIFA…the tallest building in the world. The inflight entertainment programs on emirates include a collection of audio interviews granted by various personalities including One Mohammed Ali Alabbar. He is the Chairman of EMAAR Properties, the firm that built the Burj Khalifa…In the interview Mohammed recounts the events that inspired their decision to build that structure. He recounted that the first concept they came up with was a fantastic project with a lot of facilities.

They then sought the audience of the Sheikh of Dubai to present the project to him. After they had finished with their presentation, the sheikh asked him Mohammed one question. “What’s the height of the tallest building in the world?”  The tallest building in the world at the time was about 86floors. When the chairman responded to the question, the Sheikh simply walked out of the room. I mean he walked out on them. This action baffled the Chairman so he wondered why the Sheikh would just ignore them like that. Then upon reflections he got it. He realized that the Sheikh was not impressed. So he and the architects had to go back to the drawing board to rethink the project. Lo and behold they came up with a masterpiece which outclassed the then tallest building in the world.

They sought the attention of the Sheikh again to present their concept to him. This time he sat glued to his seat and after the presentation he asked only one question. “When is the crane going on site”? Today the Burj Khalifa towers arrogantly in the sky, boasts of 7,000 visitors a day …the rest is history. For me, that feat is the result of a PPP relationship.  Beat it if you can.

I envisage a new dawn of PPP. A partnership between an AMBITIOUS AND COMMITTED Government on one side and a CAPABLE PRIVATE Sector on another side. By walking out on Mohammed, the Sheikh proved to him that he didn’t have time for small stuff – he wanted big ideas – that’s what I call AMBITION. By asking “when is the crane going on site?” I see a commitment to see that the project actually happens, I call that EXECUTION and ACTION. All this Ghana Economic Forum, Akosombo declaration, Senchi Creed, etc would be an academic exercise if we would keep them on the bookshelves and not back them with action. There’s a lot of action documents already, I believe that what we need are EXECUTORS, DOERS, and DEVELPOMENT ARCHITECTS, who don’t fear who or what!!

And it can only be achieved by only ONE crazy leader who is; AMBITIOUS, AUTHORITATIVE and a DOER. Our PPP could best be described as the case of a willing government on one side, a civil sector that cannot be bothered on another side and a hurriedly formed inexperienced private sector institution on the other side. Word has it that sometimes some of our government institutions whether intentionally or not, just stifle the initiatives of government. What stops us from being united in a manner for progress and nation building?

Finally I’m sure you’ve been waiting to hear why I’m a fan of the President. Ok I’d tell you. The last time I checked, my president is a nice guy by all standards but I think we need to help him bite. In my opinion, nice alone may not be good enough for the kind of results Ghana needs. Thanks to the foundations laid by my fore-bearers.  Today it is my responsibility to handover to the next generation, a foundation fit for them to compete on the world stage of entrepreneurs. As a citizen of the land I have no other identity but my Ghanaian ID and I believe the same applies to most of you. As a student of entrepreneurship, Ghana is where I have my competitive strengths and I believe this applies again to some of you. Also, I realise every day that time indeed is short and waits for no man… again I believe this applies to all of you

Above all of these, I’m committed to Ghana to the core, regardless of who is in control and I’d give the nation my best….As for this one, I would not know if it applies to you or not. As we prepare to dive deep into the issues, I pray that those who matter – just for God and country – would give a thought to the need for execution.

I wish you a successful event.


Author: Mike Nyinaku, Chief Executive Officer Beige Capital

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